Flu or Food Poisoning?

The flu season is coming...

However, what very often seems like the flu may actually be a foodborne illness.  According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, more than 76 million people are sickened each year by foodborne illness.  The difficulty comes from the fact that the symptoms of the flu are very similar to food poisoning.

 Symptoms "The Flu"  Food Poisoning
 Aches  Headache, muscle ache  Headache, backache, stomach cramps
 Fatigue  Common  Common
 Fever  Common  Common
 Vomiting  Rarely prominent  Common
 Diarrhea  Rarely prominent  Common
 Coughing  Common  Rare
 Sore throat  Common  Rare

source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

According to Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN - a  registered dietitian and certified nutritionist in New York, there are many things consumers can do to avoid food borne illness.  "A little extra hand washing and extra attention to detail when you handle foods or prepare a meal is a small price to pay to prevent food borne illness," says Zied.  "We certainly can't guarantee that all the foods that pass our lips at home are completely safe and free of pathogens.  However, we can wash our hands thoroughly and frequently and take appropriate steps during food shopping, unpacking, and food preparation and storage to improve our chances of eating safe and delicious food." 

Zied and the Academy agree that a few simple strategies can significantly reduce risks for foodborne illnesses.

  • Wash Hands Often.  Such an obvious task is often overlooked.  Surprisingly, 44% of food preparers fail to wash their hands properly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before meal preparation.
  • Keep Raw Meats and Ready-to-Eat Foods Separate.  Always use two cutting boards if possible and always thoroughly wash and sanitize boards between use with raw meat and other foods.
  • Cook to Proper Temperatures.  While 74% of those polled know that eating meat not cooked to proper temperatures can cause food poisoning, only 12% use meat thermometers to check doneness.
  • Refrigerate Promptly Below 40 degrees.  Cooling and storing foods below 40 degrees Fahrenheit takes food out of the 'danger zone' and reduces bacterial growth significantly.  Leftovers left in room temperature over 2 hours should be discarded.